A Comic Book Entry – Thoughts on Super-Costumes

or, “Being Edna Mode

One might get the impression after reading Tyrant-in-Chief Part 5 and artistic conventions that I don’t like super-costumes too much.  That is not true.  I love super-costumes.  It’s a fantasy and I get that and in general I’m totally willing to suspend my disbelief about what real people with superpowers might actually wear because Batman!  Or Wolverine.  Comics are a visual medium first and a good costume is one of the best ways to make an impression on a reader.

One of my favorite things about the late City of Heroes/Villains game was the costume creator.  It was very obvious to me that the developers were comic book fans and understood the importance of costumes.  Costumes slots had to be unlocked as achievements.  The right to wear a cape was a set of missions in and of itself.  The use of auras was also a mission.  New costume sets were released on a regular basis.  This was a tricky thing, I thought, because CoH/V had to watch out for copyright infringement (in the early days, I saw some players who had come very close to looking like a copyrighted character).  But they had everything a superhero/villain could want.  The body type could be altered from tiny to huge (for both male and female).  Facial features could be altered.  The color palate covered about everything.  There were tons of patterns to put on a polyspandexylon paint body stocking.  There were different hair styles, masks, accessories, pants, shirts,  trench coats, armor, capes, wings, demon horns…  The color of powers could be changed and characters’ weapons could be customized as well (swords, guns, claws, all of them).  It was awesome.

And I loved making all the costumes for my characters.  They all started out with a look related to their name and as I unlocked more slots, I created more specific costumes.  For example, my storm defender’s first look was blue and gray with lightning streaks (very 1960s).  The next look was the over-the-top ’80s with bright-tinted lightning powers.  Then came the darker and edgier ’90s look (with a trench coat of course) and dark-tinted lightning powers, and then a storm god look (I had an awesome lightning aura by then), and finally an update on the original 1960s look.  I will admit; I created a villainess and put her in stripperiffic costume because, well, sometimes I’m subject to these tropes too.  She was a demon, so I thought the stripperiffic look would work.  And yes, she was a brawler-type so she was kicking in high heels.  No, she couldn’t fly.  But she was my only character with stripperiffic costumes.  And I’ve argued some villainesses can get away with those kinds of costumes.

So don’t get me wrong; I love super-costumes.  That’s probably why I think about them so much, both in the context of a marketable medium and in the context of the world.  Costumes ought to be iconic (believe me, I spent a lot of time on my characters’ costumes).  I think every artist that takes on a character has hopes that their look will become the look everyone associates with the character.  Some costumes are so definitive that anyone looking at the character can guess exactly what their power is without even knowing the character’s name (Green Arrow comes to mind; even without the quiver and bow he looks so much like Errol Flynn’s “Robin Hood” I think most anyone would guess he was an archer).  Even if a costume is not quite as literal an interpretation of the hero/villain’s name, it should at least be distinctive (i.e., someone should recognize the outfit as a costume).  I also completely understand the urge to put a super-sexy supervillainess/heroine in something stripperiffic, but I think that really shouldn’t be the norm.

I also understand sometimes artists are bound by years and years of artistic canon.  The artist for Spider-man is only allowed to change so much about the costume because it is already so distinctive and iconic.  This is also why it’s unlikely Wonder Woman is ever going to wear pants.  Love or hate the over-the-top patriotic look of the 1940s, that aspect of her costume is just never going to go away.  I do sympathize with artists who really want to take a character’s look in a different direction and just aren’t allowed.

Fashions of the time also influence super-costumes, and not always for the best.  As mentioned, the only way Wonder Woman’s costume makes any sense is knowing when she made her debut.  Here’s a picture of Power Man and one of Dazzler.  Can you guess what decade they were introduced?  Of course!  These pictures couldn’t scream 1970s more loudly unless they were actually screaming.  Here’s a picture of Storm.  Can you guess what decade this look was introduced?  Yep, the punk look of the 1980s.  But I heart Storm and I think she pulls it off well enough.  Some artists also have a flair that they like to include in all their characters which may or may not improve the look of the costume.

In summary, I like super-costumes.  I wish I could draw because I would totally draw superheroes/villains in costumes of my own design (I’m beginning to think this is why DeviantArt was created).  City of Heroes/Villains allowed me to live that dream for awhile with the costume creator.  Some current costumes I love and some I hate.  And in a lot of ways, I think artists can do better, but I think sometimes they’re bound by publishing history or locked into artistic convention and just don’t think about what they’re really drawing.  And of course a lot of love or hate for a costumes comes down to taste.  Still, I think even a terrible stripperiffic, impractical, but distinctive costume is better than some generic get-up that doesn’t look remotely super.


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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